Why the Alt A Residential Market Exists — and Why Investors Should Care

Experienced investors consider Alt A residential mortgages a great secured product, offering a higher return than Canada Mortgage Bonds and traditional first residential mortgages. Yet to the uninitiated, the Alt A residential mortgage market is just another real estate investment offering. We’ll explain what it’s all about.

Key Points

  • The risk in the residential non-conforming mortgage market is tradeable with the risk in the conforming market. The real difference between the two is that borrowers in the non-conforming market come with stories — they are “storied mortgages.”
  • Canada’s residential mortgage market can be divided into two segments: “conforming” residential mortgages and “non-conforming” residential mortgages.
  • Conforming mortgages have the benefit of mortgage insurance, but most non-conforming mortgages do not qualify for insurance.
  • Changes in the regulatory environment have resulted in a much stronger borrower entering the private mortgage market.

Canada’s residential mortgage market can be divided into two segments: “conforming” residential mortgages and “non-conforming” residential mortgages.

An overview of Canada’s residential mortgage markets

Canada’s residential mortgage market can be divided into two segments: “conforming” residential mortgages and “non-conforming” residential mortgages.

A conforming mortgage is either fully insured by one of the mortgage insurance companies, or which is a non-insured conventional mortgage with loan-to-value of 80% or less. Borrowers with these mortgages have strong credit histories and files that are fully documented in terms of income verification and other important aspects of the loan applications. Conforming mortgages often receive the best interest rates from mortgage lenders. Our Schedule A banks dominate the conforming mortgage market.

Conforming mortgages that have the benefit of mortgage insurance make up the backbone of what are Canada Mortgage Bonds. Our big banks don’t just sit on their mortgages. To generate further income for themselves, lenders originate mortgages, pool them, then sell the pool as mortgage backed securities (MBS) to the government. To pay for the MBS, the government sells Canada Mortgage Bonds (CMBs) to investors (think pension funds, insurance companies and the banks themselves).

If the borrower is using mortgage financing for the purchase of a recreational property or housing for a family member, or the borrower is purchasing a residence for investment purposes, then the mortgage issued the borrower would be described as “non-conforming.” If the borrower has not yet established a credit history generated in Canada, that borrower will generally only qualify for “non-conforming” mortgage financing, i.e., the Alt A mortgage market.

Conforming mortgages have the benefit of mortgage insurance, but most non-conforming mortgages do not qualify for insurance.

What is the Alt A mortgage market?

Historically, there was a divide in the residential mortgage market. The mortgage was either “A” or it wasn’t. To be an “A” residential mortgage, the borrower had to meet a very rigid criteria set by the Schedule A banks which at minimum required a three-year employment history with the same employer, income verification, three years of clear Income Tax Notices of Assessments, and a credit score 700+.

The principal reason for the rigidity was to ensure the residential mortgage would qualify for mortgage insurance. The borrower had to fit within the “box.” Any borrower that did not fit within the box would have to seek out “alternative” mortgage financing. As time passed, folks who did not fit within the box, yet had good credit, came to make up what we call today the alternative or “Alt A” mortgage market.

The risk in the residential non-conforming mortgage market is tradeable with the risk in the conforming market. The real difference between the two is that borrowers in the non-conforming market come with stories — they are “storied mortgages.”

Who invests in the Alt A mortgage market?

The Alt A market, which caters to non-conforming mortgages, has proven to be an appealing mortgage investment opportunity for a variety of people, including:

  • Contractors, entrepreneurs, and small business owners who have volatile income and have a difficult time retaining traditional bank financing
  • Borrowers with challenging credit history
  • Asset accumulators who invest heavily in rental properties and have ‘too much debt’ on paper, making them riskier to schedule A banks
  • Investors purchasing income properties or second properties for family/recreational use
  • Those acquiring certain rural and agricultural properties that have residential components
  • “New to Canada” immigrants who are likely to find jobs, form households, and buy homes, but do not have credit history in Canada yet

The Modern Day Playbook For Super Successful Investing

How can a smart, modern investor get in on the real estate investing action, especially since going on your own may require prohibitive amounts of capital? Most people do not have the requisite knowledge or expertise to invest in real estate on their own.

Who borrows in the Alt A mortgage market?

The people most likely to use Alt A mortgages are what we call “New to Canada.” They’re immigrants who are sought after under Federal and Provincial immigration programs designed specifically to attract those persons who possess a specific skill or trade. They are the immigrants most likely to find jobs, form households and, ultimately, buy homes. But they do not have credit history in Canada, thus the name “New to Canada.”

Other borrowers in the the non-conforming residential first mortgage market are generally persons with a challenging credit history, investors purchasing income properties, and persons purchasing second properties for family or recreational properties. The acquisition of certain rural and agricultural properties that have residential components also fit in this category.

What are the risks of investing in the Alt A mortgage market?

Most non-conforming mortgages in the Alt A mortgage market do not qualify for insurance. Therefore, pools of nonconforming mortgages cannot be collaterialized for the purposes of issuing MBSs. Because non-conforming mortgages are typically riskier and more difficult to handle, the lender will charge the borrower more. Further, as the non-conforming mortgage does not have to comply with any restrictive guidelines, the lender may allow a higher loan-to-value than if it was a conforming mortgage. The lender may also entertain borrowers with less than ideal credit history and loosen any income verification practices it employs, especially with respect to borrowers that may be self-employed or have alternative sources of income rather than traditional employment income.

Yet, apart from these differences, the underlying real property security for non-conforming mortgages may be at least the same as for conforming mortgages in that they may be located in desirable marketable areas and well maintained at the date of underwriting. Non-conforming mortgages may also carry many of the same characteristics as conforming mortgages in that the security may be the same; they may have the same payment frequency; and the loans may be amortized resulting in a recapture of capital for the lender throughout the mortgage term.

Changes in the regulatory environment have resulted in a much stronger borrower entering the private mortgage market.

Changes in Alt A mortgage regulation through the years

15 years ago, a borrower’s mortgage could qualify for mortgage insurance at a 95% Loan-to-Value (“LTV”) and an amortization period of 40 years. Employment income used to qualify for a Mortgage did not always have to be fully confirmed and/or documented and credit scores could be as low as 580. That’s no longer the case.

Regulation has evolved. LTVs are lowered and amortization periods have been shortened. In July of 2020, CMHC increased the credit score requirements of borrowers with less than 20% down payment from 600 to 680. That knocked out a huge fraction of the borrowing populace. With a sub 680 score and no insurance, that band of borrowers will have extraordinarily difficult time retaining traditional bank financing. Now, that group looks to the alternative mortgage market.

Private lending can be quite lucrative for both lenders and their investors. And in the Alt A or “non-conforming” residential first mortgage market, it can be reasonably safe as well.

The future of the Alt A mortgage market

As the rules have become much more stringent (and the types of properties insurers are willing to cover have narrowed), borrowers are looking for alternatives. Alternative lenders are desperately trying to fill this void created by regulation. Today, they can offer their investors secure long term returns of 6% to 8% (and sometimes more) simply because there are so few options for persons forced out of the traditional mortgage markets by regulation.

Canada enjoys one of the strongest real estate markets in the world. Whether the borrower is “new to Canada” or is simply the square peg that doesn’t fit Big Bank’s round hole, the Alt A mortgage market has proven to be an appealing mortgage investment opportunity for adventuresome investors who like good stories.

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How to Evaluate MICs

Historically low-interest rates in recent years have become the driving force for many savvy investors to build wealth through one of Canada’s hottest private real estate investment products: mortgages. This is all possible through Mortgage Investment Corporations (MICs), which are designed to bring like-minded investors together to passively invest in real estate mortgages. Instead of owning “brick and mortar” and playing property manager, you’re a banker! But how well do they work? What considerations should investors note? Here, we show you how to analyze a MIC before investing in one.

Key Points

  • Historically low-interest rates in recent years have become the driving force for many savvy investors to build wealth through one of Canada’s hottest private real estate investment products: mortgages. 
  • There’s more than one way to buy a property or buy a home. MICs are an accessible investment vehicle for many — especially those seeking diversification from traditional investments like mutual funds and the stock market.

The Modern Day Playbook For Super Successful Investing

How can a smart, modern investor get in on the real estate investing action, especially since going on your own may require prohibitive amounts of capital? Most people do not have the requisite knowledge or expertise to invest in real estate on their own.

Here’s Why You Should be Investing in Mortgage Investment Corporations

A MIC is a company that pools shareholder capital, lends that capital out as mortgages, earns income via interest and fees, and pays 100% of its net income (after management fees) back to the shareholders.

Dividends paid by the MIC are taxed as interest. Many MIC investors prefer to hold their shares in a registered account like an RRSP, RESP, RRIF, or TFSA.

An investment in shares of a well-managed MIC provides investors with:

  • Capital preservation
  • Regular dividend income
  • Potential for growth via reinvestment
  • Constant deployment of capital
  • Full-service origination and administration

Still have questions about how to invest in mortgage investment corporations? Schedule a call with us and we’ll walk you through it.

Types of MICs

MICs usually hold the majority of their assets in high-yield, uninsured residential mortgages. Unlike banks, these pools of capital are generally lending for much shorter terms, with 6 to 24 months being standard.

MICs lend money to people who would or have been turned down by more traditional outlets like banks, credit unions or large alternative lenders. As such, they are able to charge significantly higher interest rates on their mortgages (in some cases in excess of 10%). In a hot real estate market such as the GTA and Vancouver, many borrowers have sought money from MICs to purchase homes or bridge gaps in funding.

To understand the allure of MICs, compare them to other fixed income investments. It’s rare to find a GIC that pays even 2% for a one-year term these days. Government bonds offer similarly low yields, even for 10-year terms. Investment-grade corporate debt does pay more, but even with those bonds, 4.0% to 4.5% is pretty much the limit these days in Canada. Bottom line, if you’re slightly more adventuresome, MICs can offer a better return.

There’s more than one way to buy a property or buy a home. MICs are an accessible investment vehicle for many — especially those seeking diversification from traditional investments like mutual funds and the stock market.

Pros and Cons: What You Need To Know

Pros

  1. Investing in a MIC spreads the investment across a large pool of mortgages, mitigating the risk from investing in single specific mortgages.
  2. Fund managers actively manage the investments and mortgages, providing an investor with a hands-free investment experience.
  3. MICs are required to comply with Federal regulations and the provisions of the Canadian Income Tax Act.
  4. A MIC generates its return from monthly mortgage payments made by the borrowers. This provides investors a stream of income while their investment is secured against real property. An investor is relying on debt repayment; not rental income!
  5. Under the Income Tax Act, taxable dividends paid to shareholders are taxed as interest income. A MIC does not pay any income taxes, provided that we distribute all of our taxable income each year.

Cons

  1. The people receiving the mortgage may have low credit. With rates on prime mortgages so low, for someone to be paying on the order of 10% annually indicates that they’re a subprime borrower.
  2. With housing prices so lofty, the underlying collateral behind these private mortgages may not be so sound. Should prices start to fall and a borrower defaults, the MIC may not recoup all of its money when it seizes and sells the asset.
  3. There’s potential for a so-called liquidity mismatch: Most MICs are “private” meaning they do not publicly trade their shares. An investment in a MIC is not “liquid”. Investors who need easy access to cash should avoid investing in private MICs.

How to Analyze Mortgage Investment Corporations

  1. Check track record and team expertise.
    When planning to invest in a MIC, check out the track record and team expertise of those sponsoring/promoting the MIC. Anyone can set up a MIC (and there are hundreds!), but it takes skill to lend carefully and profitably. Get help – a licensed advisor can help you sift through the noise an help you find the folks that can deliver you the investment return you’re targeting.
  2. Make sure the investment is suitable for your risk tolerance and investment goals.
    Risk-averse investors should look for a mortgage pool that is lower in risk. The riskiness of a fund or pool can be judged by the pool’s underwriting criteria – is the pool made up mostly of first mortgages (suggesting it’s relatively conserbative), mostly seconds (oh, might be a tad risky) or is it some balance of the two? Sometimes it’s easy to find this information. A reputable issuer will have good disclosure documents like an offering memorandum (What’s an offering memorandum?) that will provide lots of detail. Again, a licensed advisor will help you find this information. If income and preservation of capital are your goals, you’ll likely lean toward a pool that has conservative underwriting criteria and consistently delivers modest but good returns and supports your personal finance. Learn more about our underwriting criteria here. Advisors like Fundscraper will help you find something suitable.
  3. Understand the mortgage portfolio composition and concentration.
    • Types of Mortgages
      There are a variety of types of mortgages – first, second, third and so on. A mortgage (also called a “charge”) is simply a registered notice to the world that in the event the owner of the property fails to pay back a debt owed, then the person that has the benefit of the mortgage/charge may force a sale of the property to satisfy the debt owed. Mortgages are ranked according to time of registration – first on title gets the first “kick at the can”! Only after the first is satisfied, can the next party step up! So, as you can imagine, the further down the line a lender might be,, the higher the risk is that the lender will not be able to be repaid by forcing a sale of assets as there simply may be no assets left to sell when that lender’s turn comes up! And that is how mortgages are generally priced: the higher likelihood of repayment the lower the rate of interest; the lower likelihood of payment, the higher the rate of interest!

      An asset manager like Fundscraper will create a mortgage pool to reflect risk of repayment. Our first mortgage pool only invests in first mortgages, which means Fundscraper has a greater likelihood of being made whole on its investments in the event a borrower fails to repay its debt owed.

    • Terms of Mortgages 
      The term of a mortgage is the length of time a borrower may use the funds advanced by a lender. A term may be any period of time. The private mortgage world a mortgage loan will typically be anywhere from six months to three years. The reason for the shorter term is that these mortgages are risky than traditional mortgages and lenders like to review terms more often then in a traditional setting. These shorter term mortgages will often renew. Mortgage pools that are populated with these shorter term mortgages benefit by the frequent renewals as changes in rates can be made and fees earned in the renewal process. For example, in Fundscraper’s Diversified First Mortgage Pool the terms of the first mortgages contained in that pool vary between 6-18 months.
    • Geographical Location 
      You should be wary of mortgage pools that have a high concentration of mortgages in one geographical location, because it is more sensitive to adverse local economic and real estate conditions. Our Diversified First Mortgage Pool is selective about real estate development, investing in single-family and multi-family residential assets in established neighbourhoods in southern Ontario.
  4. Know the loan-to-value of the mortgage portfolio.
    For most mortgage pool funds, a loan-to-value ratio of 75% is considered conservative (banks typically lend at a max. loan-to-value ratio of 75%). This means that the amount of the loan cannot exceed 70% of the property’s value. The difference between the loan and property value creates a safety cushion that protects investors from losses in the event of a borrower default that triggers a foreclosure and sale. Get a crash course on loan-to-value here.
  5. Understand all fees.
    Investors in mortgage pools sometimes pay higher fees that can reduce the payout amounts to you. Fees can be high and can include management fees, performance fees, and mortgage origination fees. The operating expenses of the mortgage pool are also funded from investor money. This means that a manager can earn a higher return than investors through the different types of fees. Our First Mortgage Pool has a 1% management or mortgage servicing fee and the fee details are disclosed in our offering memorandum.
  6. Check for compliance.
    Fundscraper Property Trust must comply with the rules of government agencies, which are described in its disclosure documents. The principal document is the offering memorandum, which contains information regarding the Trust’s structure and objectives and management team experience. Fundscraper Capital Inc., the promoter of the Trust, is strictly regulated as an Exempt Market Dealer.

Still not sure how to analyze mortgage investment corporations in Canada? Whether you want to buy a single-family home or rental property, invest in office buildings, are considering buying an investment property, or have questions about real estate investment trusts (REITs), our team can help you understand your options. Schedule a call with us and we’ll answer all of your questions.

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How to Invest in Real Estate

The wealthiest investors all have one thing in common: They invest in real estate. You can do it, too, even if you can’t afford a down payment. Read our latest article to learn how to invest like the 1%.

Think you can’t afford a real estate investment? Think again. Worried now isn’t the right time to add another property to your portfolio? It is possible, and we’ve got you.

Even if the extent of your financial experience is a high-yield savings account, you can—and should!—diversify your portfolio with real estate. Fundscraper will teach you how to invest in real estate like the 1% does. If you’re wondering how to invest in real estate, Canada is an excellent real estate market for both seasoned investors and newbies alike.

How to Invest in Real Estate

Here’s Why You Should be Investing in Real Estate

Most of us never get a chance to participate directly in a major real estate project — usually grabbed up by big players, like private equity firms, banks, insurance companies, pension funds, and government institutions.

We are mostly left to public mutual funds, real estate investment trusts (REITs), exchange traded funds (ETFs), and the like. Most people don’t think they have the means or personal finance to buy an investment property, a rental property, an office building, or a single-family home as an investment, but they very well might.

The bottom line isn’t necessarily where you think it is.

Every investor’s goal should be to build a more perfect portfolio designed for maximum rewards and minimum risk.

Consider the experience of and the lessons to be learned from the Yale University Endowment, which is one of the best performing investment portfolios in North America, having a current value in the range of $30 billion. The fund is known for its “20% rule” which recommends at least 20% be invested directly in private markets, such as real estate.

This invariably translates into significantly higher returns over time for real estate investors over those who employ a more traditional allocation based in public markets. One can only conclude that it makes sense to piggyback onto a tried and true paradigm of real estate investing established by the major players.

If you’re new to real estate investing, the idea of adding such a large asset to your portfolio may seem intimidating. But it’s easier and more attainable than you might think.

Is Investing in Real Estate a Good Decision?

Too often, the traditional portfolio mix fails to achieve optimum performance because of the under-representation of direct real estate investing. Our thesis is simple: You’ll likely be more successful if you put more emphasis on solid direct real estate investing, while at the same time maintaining a high degree of safety.

Being risk averse is a good thing. We’re risk averse, too! Most people are naturally risk averse. We’re drawn to what we know and hesitant of what we don’t know.

The average person knows more about traditional investments like stocks and bonds, so that’s where they put most of their money. But the investment environment, especially in the stock market and bond market, can be volatile.

If you’re risk-averse, you should know that limiting your investments to only the public markets is one of the biggest investing risks of all.

The Modern Day Playbook For Super Successful Investing

How can a smart, modern investor get in on the real estate investing action, especially since going on your own may require prohibitive amounts of capital? Most people do not have the requisite knowledge or expertise to invest in real estate on their own.

Why Investing in Real Estate isn’t just for the Wealthy Anymore

An investment property probably conjures images of the wealthy 1%, but we help make that dream accessible to many. Investing limited only to public markets risks the chance of devastation if the “bubble” precipitously bursts based on factors beyond our control, such as environmental disasters, inflation, or fluctuating interest rates.

How to Invest in Real Estate

Common sense tells us to spread our money out into a diversity of pots, hoping the ups and downs will balance out and we will enjoy a somewhat stable, if unspectacular, return on our investments. As such, to grow and build wealth, it’s a good idea to put a bigger emphasis on real estate investing.

You can add real estate to your portfolio without actually needing to buy a home, or even buy a property.

How to Invest in Real Estate Like a Pro: What You Need to Know

Direct real estate investing fluctuates quite distinctly from other conventional asset groups like stocks and bonds. For instance, real estate is tangible and is what lawyers call an “immovable.” It’s not a substitute that should take the place of other assets in your portfolio, but rather an asset group all its own.

Unlike stocks and bonds, real estate trades privately based on local factors such as location, supply, demand, and investment lifespan. It is often scarce, particularly in growing areas, which translates to a history of appreciating value. In your portfolio, real estate investing is a channel to investments backed by real hard assets providing a regular income stream and long term growth coupled with the benefits of diversification.

You can enjoy superior performance and diversity at the same time. This is especially true if you’re maintaining and growing the value of your retirement portfolio. Smart real estate investing can only enhance the prospect of enjoying the benefits of things like reasonable leverage (typically as much as 4 or 5 times) and the miracle of compound interest over an extended period of time.

Your investment portfolio can enjoy superior performance and diversity at the same time. You don’t even need to be a landlord or property manager!

Meaningful real estate investing is essential for a well-rounded and successful investment package, and the benefits go well beyond diversification. The most obvious benefit of real estate investment is the financial one.

Real estate earns attractive monthly returns and can provide a regular fixed income stream over a set time frame. Speaking of tangibility, that’s another benefit: Real estate is a hard permanent asset that can be easily securitized. It has value, and you can calculate that value at any given moment.

Take advantage of having solid real estate investing as a meaningful part of your portfolio. It’s a self-evident way to enjoy reasonable returns and balance out the vagaries and unpredictable fluctuations in public securities markets, both domestic and international. It’ll pay off in the long term while maintaining a high degree of safety.

Other benefits of real estate investment to note include:

  • The ability to take advantage of leverage
  • Tax deductions
  • A chance to create added value
  • An increased voice in the management of the asset

Now that you know more about how to invest in real estate in Ontario, Fundscraper is here to answer any further questions you have about how to invest in commercial real estate, real estate development, and more. It’s time you start earning passive rental income. Contact us today to get started.

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Due Diligence Checklist Before You Invest in Private Real Estate

Today, there’s a wealth of options for accessing the market for investors of all kinds. Many investors struggle with the private real estate investment due diligence process. It can be intimidating and stressful to know where to start, what information to review, and how to determine whether or not a property is a smart investment. We’re here to make that process a lot less intimidating by explaining essential due diligence to-dos for investors, whether you choose a fund, service, or platform.

Key Points

  • Many investors struggle with the private real estate investment due diligence process.
  • Past performance does not guarantee future results, but looking at track record is one way to gauge an organization’s expertise.
  • Make sure you understand a service’s fee structure and confirm that it makes sense in light of the value the investment manager is creating for you using your capital.
  • People turn to real estate to improve their portfolio’s overall diversification. Public REITs are terrific products, but if your investment portfolio is generally made up of publicly tradable shares, you may lack diversification.

See If You Qualify

Before spending too much time envisioning your future with a particular service, be sure to check and confirm which kinds of investors it admits. For example, some funds provided by famous private equity real estate companies, like Blackstone, have a history of only admitting investors that meet certain salary thresholds, while newer platforms, like Fundscraper through Fundscraper Property Trust, allow anyone to invest.

Check Past Performance

Past performance does not guarantee future results, but looking at track record is one way to gauge an organization’s expertise. How has the manager fared in prior years? Did they show responsible custodianship over investors’ funds in the past? What does their portfolio say about their investment biases? How is their portfolio weighted? Each of these factors can help you determine what your investment experience might be like with a particular service.

 Due Diligence Checklist Before You Invest in Private Real Estate

Understand the Fee Structure

Every real estate investment has built-in expenses. In order to generate dividends, a property incurs ongoing fees, such as property management and future upkeep. Make sure you understand a service’s fee structure and confirm that it makes sense in light of the value the investment manager is creating for you using your capital.

Make Sure You Can Manage Your Investment

One of the big advantages of investing in real estate directly is that you never have any doubt about what your money is up to or how to track it. On the other hand, when you invest through a third party like a fund, partnership, or corporation, you can only track what they make visible. Now that most investment services are online, make sure you can interact with, manage, and evaluate your investment to your desired level of involvement.

 Due Diligence Checklist Before You Invest in Private Real Estate

Consider Diversification

People turn to real estate to improve their portfolio’s overall diversification. Public REITs are terrific products, but if your investment portfolio is generally made up of publicly tradable shares, you may lack diversification.

Public REITs in Canada correlate very closely with our public markets. When the markets go up, so do the REITs; when the markets go down, the REITs follow. Private real estate investment does not correlate with the public market. It’s one of the important reasons folks look to “anchor” their investment portfolios with private real estate investment. It sits at the bottom of your portfolio and chugs along, regardless of what’s happening in the public markets.

At Fundscraper, part of our due diligence is making sure you understand yours. Download our due diligence checklist template for real estate property investment here.

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Become a master of real estate investing! This playbook has inside industry knowledge that you can use to help generate passive income! Discover tactics used by the savviest investors, how to diversify, maximize your returns and avoid mistakes. It’s everything you need to know to invest like a pro.

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